…If They Can’t Take a Joke – A Conan O’Brien Encomium (En-Con-ium?)
What can’t they take away?
(The answer is, of course, nothing.)
Watching Conan O’Brien bid adieu to the Tonight Show over the past two weeks has been longest, strangest, funniest public funeral ever conducted. It’s as if Tom Sawyer was not only allowed to watch his own funeral, but conduct the damn thing – with Huck behind the podium in the form of the affable and stalwart Andy Richter. Conan and Andy, have practically gone through each of the cycles of grief before our eyes. Miraculously, they’ve even maintained their pride and dignity: no mean feat.
[[Even Tom Sawyer couldn’t help but look the part of the jackass as he interrupted his own memorial.]]
Because if you’re like us, then you, like us, see yourself in the prism of Conan’s successes and, worse, in the spectacular tumult of his fall. We see him — seemingly for what he is — one of us.
At yet at 46 years old, Conan is not. Not only is he NOT one of us, hell, he’s barely a Gen X-er. He is just a year younger than the president, for God’s sake. He’s barely three years younger younger than my Mom. My Mom.
But if you try to tell me Conan O’Brien, the erstwhile host of the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien isn’t the fucking founding father of our [Echo Boomer/Gen Y/whatever people my parents age call my generation] comic sensibilities, then I’ll tell you Neil Young wasn’t the damn Godfather of Grunge.
(And yes, hell yes, I’m addressing this to people of my age, to The Onion-readers, the Gawker.com surfers, the Lostpedia purveyors, the NFL Red Zone viewers, the Daily Show audiences and the Olsen-twin haters, the Bill Simmons-is-God brigades, the “I’m with Coco” team-members, and to the people who think Max Weinberg’s “boss” is named “O’Brien” and not “Bruce.” And that means you. Yes, you. I’m looking at you. Hmph)
To my generation:
We are who we are when we laugh together because when we laugh together it brings out the best in who we are and the best in who we are can only be found when the right joke comes along.
The Eisenhower Interstate to that right joke was paved by Conan.
Search your feelings, you know this to be true. Remember how your older cousins duped you into thinking SNL was funny? Well, that’s because when they were watching SNL in the late 80s Conan was leading the team of writers while cast of actors lead by Farley, Sandler, et al was executing every batshit crazy-genius script they devised. You dug Wayne’s World? Yeah, so did I.
Conversely, by the time we were 14 needed an excuse to stay up all night all we got was Farrell and a cast to be named later.
And if that doesn’t ring your bell, how about a little program called The Simpsons. Yeah, I went there. Nothing set the agenda in the 90s like a single, network-spawned, poorly-drawn cartoon. But nothing mattered more. And if you are under the age of 35 and you didn’t like The Simpsons then you are either (a) lying, or (b) stupid.
And if you insist on lying to my face, and deny the import of Homer, Marge, and crew, then I have two words for you, “Monorail? Monorail!”
That’s right, and that’s also, Conan.
No “Marge vs. the Monorail”, no:
- Daily Show with Jon Stewart
- Onion A/V Section
- South Park (Team America, too)
- Family Guy
- Robot Chicken
- ESPN Page 2
- Bleacher Report
- Brunching Shuttlecocks
- The Office
And without all of those things and a thousand screaming Gen Y-ers eager to organize via a bazillion unorthodox channels in the back-alleys of the internets, poised, ready and able to big him up, no Barack O’Bama — for that matter — either..
Look, I know, I know, this is just TV. Calm down.
It’s TV, so there are no good guys or moral stands, only identifiers and missives, principled or, well, unprincipled. The crux of what I’m driving at here isn’t that Conan = Electoral Landslide for Progressive America. It’s that young people swung the election last year. Oh, no, we totally did. Boy did we ever. And that sort of thing is only possible once a generation has begun to adopt an identity. It can only happen once we realize we have certain commonalities, traits, lies and dislikes. It’s my supposition that more so than my parents or grandparents generations, that my generation bonds over humor more so than music (like the boomers) or strife (like the Greatest Gen folks did).
It’s our coping mechanism. Humor accepts irony when reason cannot process the myriad daily contradictions of modern, or rather, post-modern, living. Through humor, we accept the dark matter of contemporary paradoxes. For example, humor helps us to cope every time that someone tells us that we can change the political landscape, if only we’ll send anonymous donations to his/her campaign fund. Humor also helps us to cope with seeing the image of a luxury ocean liner docked on a beach a few miles from the rubble of what used to be called Port-au-Prince. This shit is scary and scary evil for that matter. And it doesn’t just stop with the news and the boob-tube.
The very mess that the Baby-Boomers left us is the impetus for this. How’s that? Well, most of our parents come from a generation which argued that to stop war all one had to do was put a flower in the smoking end of a loaded pistol. Or better still, one that thought social independence and individuation could be found in choosing from among 12 iMac designs. Thanks a fucking lot.
So we have a mess. And we have, as Vonnegut would say, much “work to do.” And, thanks God, we have “the monorail!”
The Monorail could basically be used as a analogy for the entire experience of the Baby-Boom generation. First, they get duped by the appearance of revolution. Second, they see no solution but to run from the wreckage of their capricious excesses.
Boomer, X-er or not, we get you. We are so right with you.
The first time I saw your show…it sucked. We both admit — us the loyal audience, you the host — most of your first 3 years blew.
But there’s a reason that grew up with three dreams:
- Being a successful musician in a band approximately as cool and as famous as “Sonic Youth” or “Dinosaur Jr”
- Being the editor of a magazine
- Hosting “Late Night with…”
…not the Tonight Show…never was a fan.
The Tonight Show was an institution. For me, watching Leno on “The Tonight Show” was like watching Harvard row boats against Yale. I get that it’s a tradition, but I don’t know what merits it being called “entertainment.” On the other hand, you ruled “Late Night” from New York like a realm wherein anything was possible. Any idea was pitched and seemingly tried at least once, standards of decency fell away as the night progressed, and you weren’t afraid to let a rubber, foul-mouthed dog steal your own show away from you on any given night. Who cared what happened between 11:35 and 12:35? Half the time, we weren’t even home yet, and even then, half time we watched you next day over hair of the dog and cold leftovers.
But you getting the Tonight Show was supposed to change things. I mean, let’s recap, a guy named “Barack” was put in the office of oval stature. The final “Air Jordan” was released. And you, you were getting the gig – the most prestigious gig for any comedian in America. it was a time of momentous transition. And you had earned your place in it without making any enemies.
Bravo! Good sir, bravo.
But now, we know that that was not a passing of the torch, but a dropping of the baton.
They tell us now that your ratings made your show insolvent. We call bullshit to that. You made the audience younger – that was the fucking job with which they tasked you. And as members of said audience, we never even thought of the possibility of cancellation. Just ‘cuz we didn’t see you at 11:35 didn’t mean we weren’t watching. You’re everywhere…net watching/evening/standard…I think we covered this just now in the above.
So we rallied, literally, around you and yours. And you didn’t let us down and you didn’t go gentle.
And for that we salute you.
I know as I write, right now, you’re taping your final show. And it makes me sad.
And it makes me sadder that I won’t be watching tonight, yet again, because I got shit t’do.
But you and me, the Masturbating Bear, Triumph, Andy, Max, the band, the sofa and the desk got a date tomorrow morning over Cheerios.
You’re damn straight we do.
[[PS- If Andy needs a job we could really use a veteran presence such as his here at Venuist. Tell him to get in touch with us if he’s interested. Seriously.]]